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J. N. v. Hendrickson

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 2, 2017

J.N., Plaintiff,
v.
HEATHER M. HENDRICKSON, Defendant.

          ORDER RE: DISPUTED JURY INSTRUCTION

          DEAN D. PREGERSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the court is the parties' dispute as to Proposed Jury Instruction No. 31. (Compare Dkt. 97 (Plaintiff's proposed instruction) with Dkt. 110 (Defendant's proposed instruction.) Instruction No. 31 describes the standard for proving that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated through judicial deception.

         To prove a claim for judicial deception, a plaintiff “must show that the defendant deliberately or recklessly made false statements or omissions that were material to the finding of probable cause.” KRL v. Moore, 384 F.3d 1105, 1117 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted); see also Butler v. Elle, 281 F.3d 1014, 1024 (9th Cir. 2002) (“A plaintiff must make (1) a substantial showing of deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth, and (2) establish that but for the dishonesty, the challenged action would not have occurred. If a plaintiff satisfies these requirements, the matter should go to trial.”) (citations and quotations omitted). Echoing this standard, the parties agree on both the need to issue Instruction No. 31 and substantially agree on the language for the instruction.[1] The dispute concerns the last three sentences. Plaintiff proposes the following wording:

Omissions or misstatements resulting from negligence will not invalidate an affidavit which on its face establishes probable cause. Clear proof of deliberate or reckless omission or misstatement is not required.

(Dkt. 97 at 4.) Defendant proposes adding the underlined portions to Plaintiff's wording:

Omissions or misstatements resulting from negligence or good faith mistakes will not invalidate an affidavit which on its face establishes probable cause. Nor may a claim of judicial deception be based on an officer's erroneous assumptions about the evidence she has received. Clear proof of deliberate or reckless omission or misstatement is not required.

(Dkt. 110 at 2 (emphasis added).) Put another way, the dispute before the court is whether showing that an officer acted in “good faith” or based on an “erroneous assumption” defeats a judicial deception claim.

         On the issue of good faith, Defendant justifies the instruction on the ground that several courts in this Circuit include the following statement on good faith when discussing the elements of judicial deception: “‘Omissions or misstatements resulting from negligence or good faith mistakes will not invalidate an affidavit which on its face establishes probable cause.'” Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1224 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Smith, 588 F.2d 737, 740 (9th Cir. 1978)); see, e.g., Fresno Rock Taco, LLC v. Rodriguez, No. 1:11-CV-00622-LJO, 2013 WL 844421, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2013); Harden v. City of Clayton, No. C 10-4155 MEJ, 2012 WL 4761436, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 5, 2012). In response, Plaintiff is unable to cite to any authority that supports the proposition that an omission or misstatement resulting from a “good faith mistake” may still give rise to a judicial deception claim. To the contrary, the Ninth Circuit has held that “claims of judicial deception have as an essential element the subjective intent of the defendant.” Housley v. United States, 35 F.3d 400, 401 (9th Cir. 1994) overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cty. of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Mendocino Envtl. Ctr. v. Mendocino County, 14 F.3d 457, 462 (9th Cir.1994)).[2] In light of the foregoing, the court will include Defendant's proposed language on good faith mistakes.

         Turning to the issue of “erroneous assumptions, ” Defendant again relies on language from Ninth Circuit case law stating that “a claim of judicial deception be based on an officer's erroneous assumptions about the evidence he has received.” Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1223-24 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Smith, 588 F.2d 737, 739-40 (9th Cir. 1978)). As opposed to the good faith mistake issue, which finds support in an array of cases, only a handful district courts reference the “erroneous assumption” language. See, e.g., Zacharia v. City of Madera, No. 1:06-CV-892 AWI SMS, 2010 WL 3618690, at *13 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2010); Ammari v. Brathwaite, No. CV F 11-0867 LJO DLB, 2012 WL 3985141, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 11, 2012). These cases all trace back to the Ninth Circuit's decision in United States v. Smith, which considered a judicial deception claim in the context of a search warrant that contained several material misstatements. 588 F.2d at 737. The material misstatements at issue were made by a federal agent who had relied on information provided to him by a local detective. Id. at 737-38. In full, the court in Smith held that “[Plaintiff] did not intentionally or recklessly include false statements in his affidavit in support of the search warrant. He made certain erroneous assumptions on the basis of the information he received; but this does not amount to the reckless inclusion of false statements in his affidavit.” Nothing in this language suggests that the Ninth Circuit intended to displace the traditional standard for judicial deception claims of intentionally or recklessly including false statements in an affidavit. To the contrary, the court was only illustrating why the erroneous assumptions made by the federal agent in that case did not rise to the level of “reckless inclusion of false statements.”

         Defendant's proposed instruction on “erroneous assumptions” states-or at a minimum implies-that no claim for judicial deception exists where an officer made misstatements or omissions on the basis of erroneous assumptions about the evidence. This is an incorrect statement of law. It would be more accurate to say that a claim for judicial deception can be based on an officer's reckless erroneous assumptions but cannot be based on an officer's negligent or good faith erroneous assumptions. Of course, such an instruction is redundant in light of the agreed upon portion of the jury instruction and risks confusing the jury about how to properly understand any erroneous assumptions Defendant may have made in the instant case. Accordingly, the court will not include the following sentence in Proposed Jury Instruction No. 31: “Nor may a claim of judicial deception be based on an officer's erroneous assumptions about the evidence she has received.” (Dkt. 110 at 2.)

         Finally, the court has made additional revisions to the proposed instruction in order to improve clarity. The court intends to issue the following jury instruction on the judicial deception claim:

         COURT'S INSTRUCTION NO. 31

         A plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights are violated if an arrest was based on “judicial deception.” When a detective seeks to obtain a warrant from a judge, it is the reviewing judge's responsibility to determine whether the detective's allegations establish probable cause to issue the warrant. A judge's decision to issue the warrant creates the presumption that the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant was valid and that the detective acted in an objectively reasonable manner.

         The presumption of validity may be overcome. An arrest warrant is not valid if the detective engaged in judicial ...


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